The Norman Transcript

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June 22, 2012

The mixed blessing of food-service gloves

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With the use of food-safe gloves of various materials, we have created a new set of problems as well: the huge waste of resources in producing and disposing of billions of pairs every year. It's money that could be spent on kitchen improvements such as providing automatic or foot pedal-operated hand sinks and enough time for workers to wash their hands a reasonable number of times per day. People may be allergic to gloves, especially those made from latex, while potentially carcinogenic and toxic materials are used in making certain types of gloves.

Although there are some very good arguments to be made for wearing gloves in certain circumstances, such as when mixing a batch of meatballs and when workers have a wound on their hands, we should re-evaluate the automatic and ubiquitous usage.

"People put those darn gloves on and they think they're protected," says Denise Korniewicz, dean of the college of nursing at the University of North Dakota and an expert on the efficacy of gloves. "The best way to prevent the transmission of bacteria, virus or other bug is to wash hands thoroughly, adhering to the protocols that we know work. When evaluating food safety, it's not the gloves I observe; rather it's what workers are doing with their hands, like using the phone or wiping their nose."

Studies done in the United Kingdom and published in 2010 concluded that gloved hands can contribute as much, if not more, bacteria to foods than bare hands. That same year, an American study in a fast-food restaurant found more than twice as much coliform bacteria in tortilla samples handled by gloved workers compared with bare hands.

"We may need to make sure workers wash by putting cameras in the sink area of restrooms," Korniewicz says. "All too often, they haven't been provided with convenient, clean hand sinks with plenty of soap and paper towels. If enough time and proper materials for washing were provided, we could all have more confidence in the safety of prepared food, reducing our dependence on gloves."

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